Public Services

Public Services

Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2184-8.ch010
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Public Services, as the name suggests, is the most visible of the many roles of a public law librarian. Rarely does the public see the other library responsibilities such as budget, collection development, cataloging and processing materials, weeding, or staffing. Being the most visible, public service is a major part of a library’s public relations and marketing process and customer service speaks volumes as to how one is perceived by library patrons. This chapter covers a wide variety of functions that fit under this category including reference, bibliographic instruction, jail services, disabled or handicapped access, circulation, and interlibrary loan.
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Reference Service

Reference service begins the moment someone submits a question to a member of the library’s staff. This can occur in person when someone walks in to the library with a question or request, over the telephone or fax, via email, or using some form of social media such as Twitter®. The question or request can take any number of forms but the most common approaches include the following examples:

  • I need the form for temporary custody.

  • How do I probate a will?

  • Where are the books on filing a law suit?

  • Can you help me fill out this form?

  • I need a restraining order.

What to do? Point and say “last aisle, top shelf?” The point and verbal location response is not very helpful for the majority of the library’s users. But what level of service should the library offer? Is it necessary to walk each patron to the shelf to show him the books and explain the table of contents or index? What about pulling the form from the file cabinet and handing it to the requestor? The answer, of course, is “it depends.” The library’s level of service may be dictated by the organization’s philosophy, state/county norms or statutes, the library’s level of staffing, or how busy the library is at the time that person enters the library. A small library with only a few patrons at a time can provide more personal service than a large, very busy library where hundreds of patrons come in everyday.

If one thinks of the general reference interview as a basic form of the game “Twenty Questions,” the legal reference interview can be considered the advanced version of the same game. Frequently, the law library patron finds it difficult to put into words exactly what he needs or is seeking information on. The language barrier could be due to the need to prove a negative; a pro se’s unfamiliarity with legal and/or library terminology; discomfort with the library setting or public arena; a vague, undefined concept or issue requiring abstract thought; low educational level such as a high school dropout; poor reading skills; English as a second or third language; a mental handicap; computer illiteracy; or any number of other reasons. A legal professional may also find himself unable to adequately identify, describe or state exactly what he needs because of an issue’s complexity, abstractness or the need to either prove or disprove a negative.

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